The Real News of the Month

August 2003
Volume 10, Number 8

Editor: Joe Sobran
Publisher: Fran Griffin (Griffin Communications)
Managing Editor: Ronald N. Neff
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  -> The Uses of "Hate"
  -> The Moving Picture (plus Exclusives to this edition)
  -> The Gospel for Laughs
  -> Begging the Authorship Question
Nuggets (plus Exclusives to this edition)
List of Columns Reprinted


{{ Material dropped from features or changed solely for 
reasons of space appears in double curly brackets. 
Emphasis is indicated by the presence of asterisks around 
the emphasized words.}}

The Uses of "Hate"
(page 1)

     A reader who says he usually likes my columns took 
strong exception to the one I wrote criticizing the U.S. 
Supreme Court for striking down the Texas sodomy law 
("The Court Can Do No Wrong,"
2003/030701.shtml). He charged me with "bigotry" and 
added that I sounded like "a bitter homophobe."

     Since I hadn't written about homosexuality as such, 
or even about the merits of the Texas law, I wondered how 
he got that impression. It's possible to disapprove of 
sodomy *and* the Texas law *and* the Court's ruling, and 
I do. But no matter how clearly you try to write, you 
can't stop people from reading their own notions into 
your words.

     Needless to say, it's very common these days to 
respond to an argument by addressing not the point the 
writer is making, but his supposed feelings about the 
subject. {{ Was it always so, or has the world taken a 
turn for the worse lately? I can't say, but few would say 
we live in an age distinguished by logical thinking. }} 
If you reject a political claim made in the name of any 
category of people, you can expect to be accused of 
hating all the people in that category.

     This kind of thinking has gotten especially silly in 
the area of "gay rights" and "homophobia," terms too 
blurry to mean much. {{ It's not that I want to plead not 
guilty to the charges; I merely want to point out how 
unrealistic the charges are on their face. }}

     Lots of people disapprove of sodomy and find it 
disgusting. These attitudes are ancient and are implicit 
in all our slang and jokes about the subject. But how 
many people who hold them really hate homosexuals without 
distinction? Very few, really. The ones who do have often 
had unpleasant personal experiences that explain their 
{{ hostility; yet I have a friend who, though he was 
molested as a boy and completely shares my views on the 
matter, harbors no special animosity toward homosexuals 
in general. }}

     Despite all the rhetoric of bigotry that assails us 
these days, it just isn't that easy to hate 
indiscriminately. In fact such hatred seems unnatural -- 
or, if you prefer, idiosyncratic.

     But some people find a strange moral satisfaction in 
positing a ubiquitous "hate," usually against 
"minorities" of one sort or another. And of course this 
"hate" requires the state to take various actions to 
protect the alleged victims, to make reparations, to 
reeducate the bigoted public, and finally to "eradicate" 
the proscribed attitudes. This stipulated "hate" seems to 
fill a vacuum in the moral universe, much as the rarefied 
ether was once believed to fill the emptiness of outer 

     So "hate" endows the state with a vast mandate for 
correction. Citizens must be treated as potential, even 
presumptive, bigots. "Discrimination" must be anticipated 
and forbidden. Ambitious laws and programs must be passed 
and implemented. Old freedoms -- of association, 
property, commercial exchange -- become suspect and must 
be abridged.

     And the scope of the state must be expanded to 
include even the inspection of our motives. It isn't 
enough to ban overt "discrimination," since we may be 
"discriminating" furtively; and because we may be lying 
about our real motives, the state must also enforce 
outward compliance with "civil rights" laws {{ (by 
imposing racial quotas and the like). }} Meanwhile, more 
and more things are said to be "discriminatory," 
including marriage.

     All this must be most encouraging to the sort of 
people who think of the state as an instrument for the 
complete overhauling of society and human relations. What 
better starting point for such a project than a 
presumption of guilt against -- well, everyone?

(page 2)

     Heaven help me, I felt a pang of pity for Saddam 
Hussein when I heard that his two sons, Uday and Qusay, 
had been killed in a shootout with American forces. 
Assuming he's still alive, he's hardly entitled to pity; 
by all accounts he and his sons have pitilessly inflicted 
far worse horrors on countless others, and I doubt that 
he's reflecting that he has brought this on himself. My 
feelings have nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of 
the war. I suppose it's just the sort of reaction I would 
have if I saw Saddam being tortured -- an involuntary 
flinch, even if I thought he deserved it. And even if the 
war was justified, Uday and Qusay had little to do with 
it. Their deaths are nothing to celebrate.

*          *          *

     Private Jessica Lynch of Elizabeth, West Virginia, 
is finally home from the hospital. It's not her fault 
that the press created the instant legend of her heroism 
with false initial reports; she didn't know for some 
weeks that she had become world-famous. Her injuries were 
sustained when her vehicle, driven by another woman in 
her company, crashed during an ambush; reports that she'd 
been wounded in combat turned out to be false, and she 
was well treated by her Iraqi captors. Meanwhile, 
production of a major motion picture had begun (no 
telling whether the project is still alive). But the 
initial story of Modern Woman in Combat has dwindled into 
a woman driver incident.

*          *          *

     President Bush's post-9/11 popularity is waning 
fast. Doubts about his charges against Iraq -- seeking 
African uranium and all that -- are eroding his approval 
ratings, and it's all too clear that Iraq was never 
remotely a serious threat to the United States. 
Irrational fears evaporate with the sheer passage of 
time, and Bush can't fan them back to life. Looking back, 
it all seems faintly silly. The heroic aura is already 

*          *          *

     The Democrats are trying hard to capitalize on 
Bush's vulnerability, but they aren't getting far. Though 
scads of them are running for president, no leader or 
settled message has emerged. Their essential problem is 
that liberalism is a dying ideology with an expanding 
base: the demographics, especially immigration, favor 
them, but they have nothing inspiring to offer. Their 
appeal to various minorities is narrow, spiteful, and 

*          *          *

     I drifted into a bookstore the other day and found a 
recording of KING LEAR, starring the wondrous Paul 
Scofield (now over 80, but still in great voice). Also on 
audiotape was LIVING HISTORY, by Hillary Clinton. I was 
briefly tempted to buy it. It said it was "recorded by 
the author," and I was dying to know who wrote it.

*          *          *

     A year before its scheduled release, Mel Gibson's 
latest film is already getting rotten reviews. It's anti-
Semitic. How do we know? Well, THE PASSION is a vivid 
dramatization of the Crucifixion, in which all the 
dialogue is in Latin and Aramaic (no subtitles). The NEW 
Defamation League, among others, have hurled the early 
brickbats; the charges center on Gibson's conservative 
Catholicism and even on his father, an outspoken 
sedevacantist who holds that the papacy is vacant and 
who, for good measure, doubts the standard Holocaust 
story. But Christians who have seen advance screenings 
have found the movie extremely powerful.

*          *          *

     The American press is now referring to Iraqis 
fighting against the U.S. occupation as "rebels."

Exclusive to the electronic version:

     Shameful to relate, I passed up several respectable-
sounding films to catch TERMINATOR 3: THE RISE OF THE 
MACHINES. There's not much point in commenting on Arnold 
Schwarzennegger's acting; by now his thespian career 
doesn't depend heavily on the approval of Cahiers du 
Cinema, and even his sternest critic will allow that he 
is at least, well, consistent. Claire Danes, who plays 
the chief nonrobotic female, is a capable actress, if it 
matters in a crunchfest like this, but her rather grim 
visage, I can't help thinking, might be ideal for a 
prequel to FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE -- to be titled YOUNG 
ROSA KLEBB. I did learn from one of the reviews that the 
producers' original first choice for the role of the 
Terminator, many moons ago, was O.J. Simpson; but he was 
finally nixed because his image was "too nice" for a 
ruthless killer.

The Gospels for Laughs
(pages 3-4)

     I don't read Greek, so I can't judge the scholarly 
merits of a new translation of the New Testament, if it 
has any. But my interest in THE MESSAGE, by Eugene H. 
Peterson (NavPress Publishing Group), isn't scholarly. I 
can only say that among all the English translations of 
Scripture I know, it's easily the most lively and 
invigorating. And the funniest.

     In his preface to the J.B. Phillips translation of 
the Epistles, C.S. Lewis notes that New Testament Greek 
was a "utilitarian, commercial, and administrative" 
rather than a literary language, more useful for trade 
than for art. Beautiful translations like the King James 
Version, archaic even in its own time, may therefore 
mislead us, and homelier ones may be more faithful to the 
tone and purpose of the original. (Lewis added elsewhere, 
"St. Paul, despite some passages of striking beauty, 
seems to me to write badly.")

     In his introduction to his own translation, Eugene 
Peterson seems to echo Lewis. He contrasts the "formal" 
Greek of serious literature -- philosophy, poetry, and 
official decrees -- with "the common, informal idiom of 
everyday speech, street language ... the language used 
throughout the New Testament." This idiom is far from 
being "elevated -- stately and ceremonial ... not a 
refined language that appeals to our aspirations after 
the best but a rough and earthy language that reveals 
God's presence and action where we least expect it." As 
Lewis says, this earthiness corresponds to the 
Incarnation itself: God's appearance not in majesty, but 
in common humility.

     Maybe Peterson, a retired pastor and theology 
professor, overdoes it. He isn't after dignity of 
diction, or even strict accuracy. He has merely tried to 
be vivid -- to make the New Testament sound like 
contemporary speech. He makes it racy and sometimes 
funny. Imagine Jesus Christ using words like "shampoo," 
"cute," "bashed," "boomeranging," "shortcuts," 
"dictionary," "luxury inn," "opinion polls," "run for 
it," and "rip you off." Or telling lost souls, "You 
missed the boat.... You're out of here." Or admonishing 
the Sadducees, "You're way off base." Or commanding the 
Tempter, "Beat it, Satan!"

     The point is not to make Jesus sound hip, but to 
imagine the force of his original words in the ears of 
their hearers. Of course we don't have them in his 
Aramaic, only in a rough Greek equivalent, so in a sense 
a faithful translation is impossible. Peterson isn't shy 
about using verbal anachronisms when they may capture the 

     Here is his rendering of Matthew's Beatitudes: 
"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope.... 
You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for 
God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever 
eat.... You're blessed when your commitment to God 
provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even 
deeper into God's kingdom. Not only that -- count 
yourselves blessed every time people put you down or 
throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. 
What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort 
and they are uncomfortable."

     Obviously this isn't meant to be a definitive 
rendition; it's meant to catch the sense of Christ's 
words in concrete situations, to make the reader feel 
both the speaker and his audience. At times it fails to 
do this and is even slightly stilted, as if Peterson 
can't quite shake the habits of older, more formal 
translations. Still, his version constantly startles. And 
if it does no more than that, waking us up from the 
liturgical drone of custom, it's well worth the price in 
more august qualities.

     Peterson's Christ goes on: "Here's another way to 
put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-
colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. 
We're going public with this, as public as a city on a 
hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm 
going to hide you under a bucket, do you?" Now no 
English-speaker would use a phrase like "God-colors," but 
the rest of the passage has a redeeming energy. It 
actually sounds like someone talking. "You don't think 
..., do you?"

     The Lord's Prayer becomes this: "Our Father in 
heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; do 
what's best -- as above, so below. Keep us alive with 
three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and 
forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the 
Devil. You're in charge! You can do anything you want! 
You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes." Nobody would 
call this an improvement on the familiar version, but it 
makes us reflect on what the words mean.

     When praying, Jesus warns, "Don't make a performance 
out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made 
you won't be applauding." As for hypocrites, 
"'playactors' I call them": "They get applause, true, but 
that's all they get.... All these people making a regular 
show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you 
think God sits in a box seat?... It might turn you into a 
small-time celebrity, but it won't make you a saint."

     Again, hardly the grave eloquence we're used to. If 
Peterson's were the only translation, it would leave a 
lot to be desired. But of course he's presupposing that 
we know other versions, and he's purposely playing off 
our knowledge of them in order to make them fresh again. 
It's like an almost playful paraphrase. In fact it often 
makes me laugh gratefully, as when Jesus speaks of John 
the Baptist: "What did you expect when you went out to 
see him in the wild? A weekend camper?... A sheik in silk 
pajamas?" Quite a card, that Jesus! We're used to seeing 
him as Lord, but here he's also the life of the party. 
But, come to think of it, why shouldn't wit and 
conviviality be among the attributes of the Incarnation? 
Where is it suggested that the Redeemer, in his earthy 
demeanor, was slightly stuffy?

     But sometimes the effect is surprisingly poignant, 
as when Christ feeds what we've always called "the 
multitude": "I hurt for these people. For three days now 
they've been with me, and now they have nothing to eat. I 
can't send them away without a meal -- they'd probably 
collapse on the road."

     What Peterson conveys especially well is Christ's 
frustration at his disciples' inability to comprehend 
what he has tried to make plain to them: that he must 
suffer and die in order to fulfill his mission. "You 
still don't get it, do you?" The reader feels their shock 
when they realize he really is going to be crucified, 
that his forewarnings were not figurative, but quite 
literal. The abruptness of modern colloquial speech 
brings this home, where more dignified translations 
muffle the impact.

     Peterson colloquializes the Epistles to good effect 
as well, almost making you forget you've read them 
before. Here is Paul describing the results of sin to the 
Romans: "Since they didn't bother to acknowledge God, God 
quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all 
hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, 
vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with 
their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look 
at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-
bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They 
keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch 
their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, 
cruel, coldblooded. And it's not as if they don't know 
better. They know perfectly well they're spitting in 
God's face. And they don't care -- worse, they hand out 
prizes to those who do the worst things best!"

     Here is Paul to the Corinthians: "But let me tell 
you something wonderful, a mystery I'll probably never 
fully understand. We're not all going to die -- but we 
are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all 
blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up 
and blink your eyes -- it's over." You may be relieved 
that Handel didn't try to set this to music, but it's not 
for euphony that Peterson is recommended.

     Peterson has also translated the Old Testament, and 
THE MESSAGE includes his renderings of the Psalms and 
Proverbs. Again we turn to him more for refreshment than 
for beauty, as in Psalm 23:

      God, my shepherd!
           I don't need a thing.
      You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
           you find me quiet pools to drink from.
      True to your word,
           you let me catch my breath
           and send me in the right direction.
      Even when the way goes through
           Death Valley,
      I'm not afraid
           when you walk at my side.
      Your trusty shepherd's crook
           makes me feel secure.
      You serve me a six-course dinner
           right in front of my enemies.
      You revive my drooping head;
           my cup brims with your blessing.
      Your beauty and love chase after me
           every day of my life.
      I'm back home in the house of God
           for the rest of my life.

     Peterson justifies this tone by arguing that the 
Psalms are not the prayers of "*nice* people," "polished 
and polite." "Prayer is elemental, not advanced, 
language.... The Psalms in Hebrew are earthy and rough. 
They are not genteel. They are not the prayers of nice 
people, couched in cultured language."

     {{ Evidently not. Psalm 137, which begins with the 
famous poignant lament for Jerusalem beside the waters of 
Babylon, ends with a blood-curdling curse:

      And you, Babylonians -- ravagers!
      A reward to whoever gets back at you
           for all you've done to us.
      Yes, a reward to the one who grabs your babies
           and smashes their heads on the rocks!

     Peterson doesn't comment on this disturbing passage, 
but Lewis does: "If the Jews cursed more bitterly than 
the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because 
they took right and wrong more seriously." }}

     All in all, a book of delight and wonder. Majestic 
it certainly isn't. But if you want to be surprised by 
Scripture, Peterson is your man.

Begging the Authorship Question
(pages 5-6)

{{ The ending of this piece had to be abridged for 
reasons of space. The original ending is restored in this 
edition and is so marked. --- RNN }}

     When was HAMLET written? Around 1600, say the 
Shakespeare scholars. And thereby hangs a tale.

     The play first appeared in print, in a mangled 
version, in 1603. A far better edition appeared the 
following year. Since the Bard is supposed to have begun 
his theatrical career around 1590, 1600 sounds like a 
good guess for a mature masterpiece like HAMLET.

     Ah, but we find a jocular reference to Hamlet and 
his "tragical speeches" as early as 1589! There are 
further references to the play in 1594 and 1596. How do 
the scholars explain *that?*

     There must have been an earlier Hamlet play by 
someone else, they answer. We *know* Shakespeare couldn't 
have written his play -- many would say his greatest -- 
that early. We aren't even sure he was in London by 1589.

     The scholars have even given this earlier play a 
name: the UR-HAMLET. Sounds rather prehistoric. The 
Elizabethan theater's Missing Link, as it were. No trace 
of it has ever been found, but the scholars are 
absolutely certain of its existence. They have to be. 
They regard it not as a mere hunch, inference, or 
hypothesis, but as an established fact. In a way, their 
whole conception of "Shakespeare" depends on it -- on a 
play that has never turned up.

     Nor will it. The UR-HAMLET is actually a figment of 
circular reasoning, a symptom of everything that's wrong 
with Shakespeare scholarship. We don't actually know when 
any of the Bard's plays were written. We can only guess.

     But if we begin by assuming that the Bard was 
William Shakspere of Stratford, born in 1564, died in 
1616, we will be led to infer that he wrote the plays 
roughly between 1590 and 1610. This is what the scholars 
have done, spreading the plays out more or less evenly 
over that 20-year span, with HAMLET about in the middle.

     The plays themselves don't tell us when they were 
written. All we can safely assume is that they were 
written before they were printed. But how long before? A 
month? Five years? Ten? Even thirty? Thirty years may 
sound like a stretch -- changes in the English language 
itself set certain limits -- yet even the most 
conservative scholars agree that many of the plays in the 
Folio must have been written decades before 1623. When we 
date them depends largely on what we believe about their 
     But if William of Stratford *wasn't* the Bard? 
Unthinkable. The purely hypothetical UR-HAMLET preserves 
both his authorship and the dating system the scholars 
have derived from it.

     The scholars' "Shakespeare" is actually a construct, 
fusing a bare handful of facts about the Stratford man 
with mountains of surmise about the works he supposedly 
wrote. The trouble is that this construct can't absorb 
inconvenient data. If a fact contradicts the construct, 
that fact must go. Ad hoc explanations like the UR-HAMLET 
are typical of Shakespeare scholarship.

     Take another case. In a poem published in 1591 
(though probably written earlier), Edmund Spenser praises 
a playwright he calls "our pleasant Willie," who has 
lately been absent from the theater. His description of 
Willie's comedies caused generations of readers to 
believe he must be referring to the Bard. Later praise of 
"Shakespeare," in fact, echoes Spenser's words about 
Willie, "whom Nature's self had made To mock herself and 
truth to imitate," and "from whose pen Large streams of 
honey and sweet nectar flow." (Spenser also contrasts 
Willie with "base-born men," implying that he's a 
gentleman of some rank.)

     But again, the scholars deny what seems the obvious 
meaning. According to their construct, "Shakespeare" 
could not have taken leave of the theater by 1591, 
because his career had barely begun. So, like the first 
reference to Hamlet, this reference to a Willie must be 
to someone else, though nobody has figured out who. (An 
*ur*-Willie, perhaps?)

     The mysterious 1591 "Phaeton" sonnet sounds so 
Shakespearean that some scholars have assigned it to the 
Bard. But they have been overruled -- not because of the 
poem's style, but, once more, because the date is too 
early for the "Shakespeare" of scholarly construction.

     Only two of the Bard's works can be dated with 
precision: the narrative poems VENUS AND ADONIS (1593) 
and THE RAPE OF LUCRECE (1594). These were the first two 
works published under the name "William Shakespeare," and 
we can date them because of their dedications to the 
young Earl of Southampton.

     They were immediately hailed as poems of mature 
genius. Nobody thought the poet was a mere rookie in his 
trade. Yet the scholars have dismissed these poems as 
"early" and "experimental" works. Why? Because the 
standard dating system dictates it. The truth is that 
they suggest that this dating system, constructed around 
the supposed writing career of William of Stratford, is 
wildly wrong. I'd say that they display an eloquence, a 
poetic authority, and rhetorical skills fully worthy of 
the man who had already written HAMLET.

     That would be Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But 
the scholars rule him out as the Bard. Why? Because 
Oxford died in 1604, and about ten of the plays were 
written after that year. How do we know? Well, because 
that's when the scholars' Bard -- William of Stratford -- 
is supposed to have written them! (Actually, Oxford was 
14 years older than William, and could well have written 
HAMLET by 1589; as I believe he in fact did.)

     SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS was published in 1609. These 
are full of the poet's self-revelations: he is an aging 
man, down on his luck, "in disgrace," and "lame" -- 
Oxford to a tee. It doesn't sound like William of 
Stratford at all. How do the scholars handle the awkward 
fact that the Sonnets can't be squared with what we know 
of William? Most of them deny that the Sonnets are 
autobiographical -- they are "fictions," or mere 
"literary exercises."

     Circular reasoning, explaining away the anomaly, 
ignoring the obvious: all these are standard operating 
procedure in Shakespeare scholarship. When it comes to 
Oxford, the scholars really show their mettle. Even the 
most striking facts pointing to Oxford's authorship are 
belittled as insignificant coincidences.

     For example, the first 17 Sonnets try to persuade a 
young man to marry and beget an heir. It's widely 
believed that this youth was Southampton, to whom VENUS 
and LUCRECE were dedicated. At the time, Southampton was 
under pressure from the great Lord Burghley, Oxford's 
father-in-law, to marry, of all the girls in England, 
Oxford's daughter Elizabeth. Mere coincidence?

     Then there were the Herbert brothers, William and 
Philip. William nearly married Oxford's daughter Bridget; 
Philip did marry Oxford's youngest daughter Susan. The 
1623 Folio of the Shakespeare plays, though it identified 
William of Stratford as the Bard, was dedicated to the 
Herberts, the "incomparable pair of brethren," who by 
then had become the earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. So 
all three of the earls to whom the Bard's works were 
dedicated -- Southampton, Pembroke, and Montgomery -- 
could easily have become Oxford's sons-in-law.

     But such coincidences leave the scholars 
unimpressed. Such facts don't penetrate the closed circle 
of the Shakespeare construct. Nothing does. The experts 
have their story, and they're sticking to it.

     The coincidences keep mounting. One of Oxford's 
uncles was Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who pioneered 
English blank verse and the "Shakespearean" sonnet form. 
Surrey even appears (unhistorically) in a play now widely 
ascribed to the Bard, SIR THOMAS MORE. Another of 
Oxford's uncles, Arthur Golding, did a famous translation 
of Ovid, often used by the Bard. Lord Burghley himself is 
evidently the model for Polonius. But none of these 
"coincidences" registers with the scholars or affects 
their image of the Bard.

{{ Ending in the print edition }

     The many echoes of Oxford's life and personal 
letters in HAMLET and the Italian plays likewise fail to 
impress the scholars. Oxford's letters from Europe 
mention two Italians, Baptisto Nigrone and Pasquino 
Spinola, whose names are fused as Baptista Minola (in THE 
TAMING OF THE SHREW). If you think the scholars find 
*this* interesting, guess again.

     What it comes to is this. We have two early sources 
of testimony about the Bard, the Folio prefaces (by men 
claiming to be his friends and colleagues) and the 
Sonnets (by the Bard himself). The scholars have chosen 
to believe the Folio testimony about the Bard's identity, 
no matter where it leads. And if what the Bard tells us 
about himself in the Sonnets contradicts the Folio, it 
doesn't register. His self-portrait is dismissed as 

     So the scholars have constructed their own happy 
Bard -- a Horatio Alger from the provinces, who comes to 
the big city, makes good, retires to his home town again, 
dies wealthy, and is properly memorialized in the Folio. 
They reject the obscurely discrepant witness of the 
Sonnets, with all their dark talk of aging, shame, 
disgrace, failure, and approaching death -- and of a 
"name" that must "be buried where my body is."

     They have given the Folio, and the Folio-based 
"Shakespeare of Stratford," absolute primacy. By making 
the Bard a "common man," the biographers have only made 
him more remote. Oxford, with all his frailties, sounds 
much more like the poet of the Sonnets.

     So, apart from romantic but inconclusive speculation 
about the identity of the poet's mistress (the famous 
"Dark Lady"), the Sonnets -- the Bard's own words about 
himself -- have been more or less ignored in his 
biographies! But the downgrading of the Sonnets began 
with the Folio itself.

     In the court of Shakespeare scholarship, the Bard's 
own testimony about himself is ruled inadmissible.

{{ Original ending }}

     The many echoes of Oxford's life and personal 
letters in HAMLET and the Italian plays likewise fail to 
impress the scholars. Oxford's letters from Europe 
mention two Italians, Baptisto Nigrone and Pasquino 
Spinola, whose names are fused as Baptista Minola (in THE 
TAMING OF THE SHREW). If you think the scholars find 
*this* interesting, guess again.

     The scholars aren't just wrong about the Bard's 
identity. They've also built a correction-proof fortress 
of assumptions, which has caused them to misconceive the 
kind of poet he was. Their Bard was in it for the money, 
a modestly educated, self-made provincial making good in 
the big city -- a success story along Horatio Alger 
lines, never mind what the Sonnets say about shame and 
disgrace and failure.

     The Sonnets raise a basic problem of biographical 
method. In them the Bard indirectly tells a good deal 
about himself, though it isn't in the form of hard 
information. They seem to conflict with the seemingly 
firmer facts of the Folio and the documents of William's 
life. Just what is their status?

     Put simply, how do we square the Sonnets with the 
Folio? If these two sources tell us discrepant things 
about the Bard, which should we trust?

     The Folio gives little real information, not even 
dates of birth and death; only the Bard's identity, 
really. And such facts as it purports to give were 
written for public consumption under the auspices of two 
powerful brothers (who, being close to Oxford, might have 
shared, or at least honored, his desire to conceal his 

     The Sonnets are private poems, addressed to an 
intimate friend (along with a few addressed to a 
mistress). The poet speaks about himself in the first 
person, confessionally and often unflatteringly. These 
poems don't at all have the flavor or structure of 
"fictions." They allude to facts about the poet which he 
assumes his friend already knows.

     To rephrase our basic question: Should the Bard's 
biography begin with what others say about him publicly, 
or with what he says about himself privately? The Folio, 
on its face, is easy to understand; the Sonnets are 
tricky, precisely because they are so elliptical. So the 
scholars, rather naturally, have chosen to make the Folio 
their biographical bedrock, arranging all the data 
they've unearthed about the Stratford man (and the author 
they presume he is) around the Folio's primary assertion.

     This has forced the scholars to "demote" the 
Sonnets, and often to deny that they have any factual or 
biographical value. This is reasonable, and in fact 
necessary, if we are sure we can trust the Folio 
witnesses. But if those witnesses are deceiving us, 
however benignly, then the Sonnets, for all their 
difficulties, must become the foundation of any biography 
of the Bard.

     The mainstream scholars have simply never 
entertained the latter alternative. They have given the 
Folio, and the Folio-based "Shakespeare of Stratford," 
absolute primacy. By making the Bard a "common man," the 
biographers have only made him more remote. Oxford, with 
all his frailties, sounds much more like the poet of the 

     So, apart from romantic but inconclusive speculation 
about the identity of the poet's mistress (the famous 
"Dark Lady"), the Sonnets -- the Bard's own words about 
himself -- have been more or less ignored in his 
biographies! But the downgrading of the Sonnets began 
with the Folio itself. There must have been a reason.


interesting headline to come out of the Iraq war: "Marine 
Had Baby on Ship in War Zone." (page 8)

OVERLOOKED: No novelist has inspired so many excellent 
movies as Charles Dickens, and if you missed the recent 
NICHOLAS NICKLEBY I heartily recommend grabbing the 
video. Especially delicious are Jim Broadbent and Juliet 
Stevenson as the comic nasties, Mr. and Mrs. Squeers. 
(page 9)

President Bush really believes Saddam Hussein had all 
those WMDs, why doesn't he make finding them his top 
priority? Why isn't he ordering an all-out, door-to-door, 
sealed-borders search for them? Why isn't he sending more 
troops for the purpose? If those weapons really exist, 
finding them would not only help vindicate the war, but 
prevent them from "falling into the hands of terrorists." 
(page 10)

HOW'S THAT AGAIN? Columnist George Will writes, "A 
prescription-drug entitlement is not inherently 
unconservative, unless the welfare state itself is -- and 
it isn't." When Will started dropping such remarks years 
ago, I hoped I was hearing him wrong -- but I wasn't. 
(page 12)

Exclusive to the electronic version:

GOOD OLD DAYS: It can't be! It is! It's now 35 years 
since 1968, when the Detroit Tigers, my home team, had a 
thrilling season, winning the American League pennant by 
habitually coming from behind to win in the late innings. 
Denny McLain won 31 games himself, the only pitcher since 
Dizzy Dean to win 30. In the World Series the Tigers did 
it again, coming from behind, 3 games to 1, to beat the 
great Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in seven 
games. What a team! But that was then. This year the 
Tigers are well on the way to losing more games than any 
team in Major League history.

MEMORIES: The ugly breakup of Andrew (son of Mario) 
Cuomo's marriage to Kerry (daughter of Bobby) Kennedy 
Cuomo reminds me of a run-in I had with Mario, then 
governor of New York, back in 1984. I'd quipped in my 
column that Mario "looks and talks like one of the guys 
who gets gunned down at the end of THE GODFATHER." That 
one got me denounced as a bigot by Mario, Mayor Ed Koch, 
and Congressman Mario Biaggi. Epilogue: Biaggi's own mob 
ties later helped land him in prison.

THANKS, I'LL SIT THIS ONE OUT: Congressional Republicans 
have introduced something called a "Head Start 
reauthorization bill." Democrats charge that it would 
effectively gut the Great Society preschool program for 
low-income kids. Republicans insist it would strengthen 
the program. As usual, the two parties are bickering 
about the best way to save socialism. Inspiring, isn't 


* The Three Stooges (July 3, 2003)

* The Kennedy Sex Scandals (July 8, 2003)

* The Dust Settles (July 10, 2003)

* Power and Trust (July 15, 2003)

* Dueling Teleocrats (July 17, 2003)

* The Boys on the Train (July 22, 2003)


All articles are written by Joe Sobran

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